Of the many illegal structures dotting the environs of Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), the Bhoiwada police wants the BMC to raze only one kind -- the temporary shelters built by relatives of cancer patients who need a roof over their heads while their family members undergo lengthy and painful treatment in the city. The justification they have offered for issuing this order -- the shacks may expose the hospital and its patients to the threat of terror attacks.
Cancer patients from across the country are accompanied by their relatives to the hospital. As the hospital cannot provide accommodation to all of them, they are forced to stay in temporary shelters on the footpaths lining the hospital. The family members say that the cost of lengthy accommodation in the city is far more than the cost of treatment at the hospital, and this has forced them to put up in shacks that they build themselves.
At present, around 10 patients and their families are huddling under temporary plastic sheds outside the hospital. Even during heavy rains, the thin plastic sheets are the only things that shield them from the elements.
For the past four months, blood cancer patient Putun Devi (30) has been living in her little shack in front of the hospital gate, with her husband and her little child. She has come all the way from Bihar for her treatment. “Though the treatment costs are subsidised, there are many other expenses that we need to meet on a day-to-day basis. We often have to visit the doctor twice a month. It is not possible for my family and me to return to our hometown in Bihar and return every time we have to visit the doctor. I am helpless. I have no option but to live on the street,” said Putun Devi.
Nagpur native Kunika Devi (40) has been forced to make the footpaths her home for similar reasons. Her niece is suffering from nasal cancer. “I am illiterate and poor. Since it is raining, it isn’t too crowded here -- many of the relatives have scattered across places like Parel and Dadar. But once it stops, many other families will come back to the pavements. During the rains, we go and stay on the footpaths near KEM Hospital,” said Kunika.
Sushma Tiwari, whose husband Pramod is battling throat cancer, took to the streets last morning.
“We have a relative in Vasai, but we cannot travel with a cancer patient in the train. So we chose this footpath,” said Sushma. Exposed to the elements, the family is seen cooking and bathing on the pavements.
According to the hospital administration, arrangements made for patients’ relatives fall far short of the requirement, as hundreds of relatives keep pouring in to take care of patients. The halls in which family members are accommodated include Nana Palkarji Smuriti Hall at Parel, Ghadge Maharaj Dharamshala and Bandra Memorial Home in Bandra. Some temporary arrangements have also been made at Sarvodaya Nagar in Ghatkopar. The relatives are charged Rs 50 per day.
Justifying their stance, the police claimed that they have received specific inputs that terrorists might target the hospital on the eve of Independence Day, this year. They claimed that they could not risk the lives of thousands of patients and doctors for the sake of a clutch of families who are squatting outside the hospital.
“The hospital is under a terror threat. I have written a letter to the ward officer of the BMC asking that he make arrangement of patients elsewhere in the city. I have a lot of sympathy for the patients.
But the anti-social elements and terrorists might pose a risk as relatives live in these shacks and target the hospital,” Sunil Tondwalkar, Senior Inspector of Bhoiwada police station. The hospital staff too is taking precautions. They have alerted the security staff and imposed strict norms for inspection of luggage that the patients and their relatives bring with them to the hospital. The security personnel have also been asked to oust people loitering around the hospital premises without valid reason.
Asked about the threat to the hospital, an officer from TMH said, “It is true that we are facing a security threat. The police have alerted us. We sympathise with the patients. But can not allow to them to live on the footpaths,” he added.